24/7’s second episode shows us Bruce Boudreau might actually have a handle on things

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The second episode of HBO’s 24/7 goes to show us that judging teams based on one episode is akin to judging a book by its cover. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau faced a lot of criticism after the first episode and it appeared that all of those questions raised about his preparedness as a coach and his ability to hold the attention of his team in the room were answered emphatically.

Many talked about how Boudreau didn’t appear to have meticulous notes on the whiteboards for the Caps before games making it seem like he was an ill-prepared madman. In Wednesday’s episode we see more of Boudreau the coach with game plans written out with care and seeing him work player-to-player on everything from fighting to injuries to playing psychologist as much as he is a coach. For a team mired in a losing streak doing that is just as important as laying out the x’s and o’s.

In our three things to look out for before the airing of tonight’s episode we found out that the layout of tonight’s episode was indeed easy to pick out but seeing how it was laid out in front of us makes it all more fun. Capping off the episode with Washington beating Ottawa and ending their losing streak to get off their eight game schneid and celebrating to DJ Pauly D’s “Beat Dat Beat” proves that winning can cure everything.

There was a moment that raised eyebrows though and, again, it’s the Caps doing the work. Caps GM George McPhee commented on the negative publicity surrounding the team in their losing streak and said that if those commenting knew anything about hockey they’d be working in it. I get that those on the inside know how things work better when it comes to running a hockey team, but if you’re expecting the local sports talk shows to clam up while the team plays bad hockey, you’re crazy.

Those in the media, whether it’s blogs, newspapers, or talk radio, it’s our job to comment on what we see out on the ice and if what we see stinks, you’d better believe it’s going to be told that way. For McPhee to expect to either be ignored (perhaps in favor of the local NFL failures) or not talked about at all is just crazy and unrealistic.

When you win, you get praised and when you lose you are opened up to criticism, it’s that simple and it’s how the business works. If the Caps are able to keep winning and put that losing streak behind them for good, I’m sure he’ll be quite happy hearing the praise rather than the negative comments. We may not be hockey insiders in the media, but we know a struggling team when we see it.

Not everything McPhee showed in this episode was like this though. McPhee showed that he’s clearly the man in charge of the Capitals and how things are run in D.C. and that whatever happens there is by his design one way or another. Seeing him react to the team falling behind and then coming back against Boston before eventually losing their eighth game in a row is like something out of a feature film. Leave no doubt in your mind that George McPhee is the man running the Capitals.

As for the more fun and light-hearted and enlightening stuff to take away from episode two,there’s a few things:

  • Sidney Crosby’s superstitions are both fascinating and gross. From taping his sticks at a certain time and having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before a game to seeing that Sid wears the same athletic supporter he has since he was 16 years-old provides some insight as to how quirky even the biggest star of the game is.
  • Alex Ovechkin still living with his parents in Washington provides a nice down home look at the other biggest superstar in the league. Seeing Alex’s mother prepare his dinner for him before hitting the road while seeing him pack lightly only bringing his PS3 reminds you that these guys are still just kids.
  • Penguins agitator Matt Cooke pranking his old friend and Internet superstar Paul Bissonette of the Coyotes by snipping his skate laces and stuffing Dubble Bubble bubble gum into the fingers of his gloves shows that even an on-ice villain can make us laugh.
  • The speech Caps forward Mike Knuble gave after the first period of their game against Boston where the Caps were already down 3-0 might have been the one locker room speech they needed the most to wake them up. He’s not the assistant captain for nothing.
  • Caps fighter Matt Hendricks’ eye after getting punched up by Rangers agitator Sean Avery is one of the grossest and manliest things you’ll ever see on TV.
  • Mike Green has an interesting mode of transportation.
  • Seriously, the Caps celebrate victories to this song and have a locker room Jersey Shore fist pump dance-off. My mind is blown.

Next week’s third episode figures to be the crowning glory of the four episode set as the teams will be preparing to face each other in their game that happens on Thursday night the 23rd. Having the NHL schedule makers set this up so nicely to amp up the drama will make next week’s episode even more of a must-watch.

Michal Neuvirth gets Game 5 start for Flyers; Couturier returns to lineup

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With their season on the line on Friday night the Philadelphia Flyers are making a change in goal.

Michal Neuvirth, who has played just 59 minutes of NHL hockey since Feb. 18, will get the Game 5 start in goal when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Neuvirth replaced Brian Elliott in Philadelphia’s Game 4 loss on Wednesday night after Elliott gave up three goals on 17 shots, the second time he was benched in the first four games. The Flyers have already used three goalies in this series with Elliott, Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek all getting playing time. None of them have played well.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

When healthy Neuvirth had the best numbers out of the group during the regular season, but health has been a constant battle for him the past few years.

The other big lineup news for the Flyers on Friday will be the fact that center Sean Couturier will be returning after sitting out Game 4 with a lower body injury. He may not be 100 percent, however, given that he took pregame line rushes on the team’s third line between Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds. Valtteri Filppula was skating on the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Among the other changes for the Flyers: Robert Hagg will replace Travis Sanheim on defense, while Dale Weise will play on the fourth-line instead of Oskar Lindblom.

Related: Penguins will not have Patric Hornqvist in Game 5

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Barkov, Karlsson, O’Reilly are 2018 Lady Byng Trophy finalists

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Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, the NHL announced on Friday. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers center certainly has the “high standard of playing ability” part down with a season that saw him lead the team with 78 points and finish tied for third in goals with 27. Barkov played the fifth-most minutes (1,743:32) among NHL forwards and only picked up seven minor penalties. This is the second time he’s been named a finalist in the last three seasons.

The Case for William Karlsson: Karlsson had a monster of a season with 43 goals and 78 points during the Golden Knights’ historic first year. In playing 1,534:47, the 25-year-old forward racked up only 12 PIMs. Should Karlsson win, he would become the first player to win an end-of-season trophy for a team in its inaugural season since Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers won the Byng and Hart Trophy and in 1979-80.

The Case for Ryan O'Reilly: O’Reilly missed one game this season and logged 1,686:10 of ice time for the Sabres. He recorded only one penalty all season, way back on Oct. 24 versus Detroit, a slashing call. His one penalty is the fewest among NHL players who suited up for at least 41 games this season. He’s a previous winner having taken home the trophy in 2014 while a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Bill Masterton Trophy (Saturday)
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins, Jets, Predators look to advance

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Game 5: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (Penguins lead 3-1)
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Call: John Forslund, Pierre McGuire
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Stream here

Game 5: Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (Jets lead 3-1)
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Call: Dave Randorf, Louis Debrusk
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Stream here

Game 5: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET (Predators lead 3-1)
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Call: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Brian Boucher
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[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Leafs ‘under the gun,’ especially Matthews and Kadri

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Nazem Kadri told reporters that he didn’t apologize to his teammates about the three-game suspension he received for a hit on Tommy Wingels, explaining that he was sticking up for Mitch Marner.

An apology might not be necessary, but the bottom line is that Toronto Maple Leafs fans likely expect a lot from Kadri – not to mention star center Auston Matthews – as this team tries to fight back from down 3-1 in their series against the Boston Bruins.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Letdowns

The Maple Leafs dropped two of three games with Kadri out of the lineup, prompting plenty of “What if?” questions, even if people merely wondered how different things would be if it was just a one-game suspension.

Regardless, when it came to last night’s 3-1 loss in Game 4, Mike Babcock didn’t mince words about Toronto failing to exploit the Bruins’ absence in the form of Patrice Bergeron.

“I’m assuming that he thought he was going to come tonight and dominate the game. That’s what I thought,” Babcock said of Matthews. “That didn’t happen …”

Auston not scoring often

Ultimately, Matthews has been limited to one point (the game-winner in Game 3) through the first four games of this series. That’s a disappointment for the NHL’s biggest jersey seller, especially since he showed nicely during his first playoff series, collecting five points during that memorable first-round bout with the Washington Capitals during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s easy to throw Matthews under the bus, and Babcock essentially admits that not enough was there last night.

Still, quite a bit of this comes down to bounces. Matthews has generated more than four shots on goal per game (17 overall) so far in this series, suffering with a Rick Nash-like 5.9 shooting percentage during this postseason. Such numbers tend to balance out over time; note that Matthews scored four goals in six games during that Capitals series on 16 SOG, good for a 25-percent shooting rate that would be unsustainable during an 82-game regular season.

There’s also at least some reason to wonder if Matthews is at least somewhat limited by the injury that cost him 10 games from Feb. 22 until his return to the lineup on March 22. As brilliant as he was (six goals, seven assists for 13 points in nine games), maybe he’s missing a few mph on his fastball against unforgiving competition like Zdeno Chara?

Either way, Matthews (and William Nylander) have struggled while the Bruins’ top-line forwards Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak find ways to feast upon the Maple Leafs’ mistakes.

Kadri has plenty to prove

Expectations will be high for Kadri, too, and his offensive numbers have been modest over a small sample size of playoff appearances.

So far, Kadri has generated two goals and six assists in 14 career playoff games, piling up 35 penalty minutes. At minimum, Toronto would like to see his finishing touch pay off a bit more in the postseason after the agitating center generated 32 goals in each of the past two regular seasons.

Much of that can be filed under “easier said than done,” particularly when Tuukka Rask is on his game.

Under the gun

That said, Babcock believes that players like Matthews and Kadri should “embrace and enjoy” the pressure.

” … No pressure means you have no chance. Go to the Olympic games, if you’ve got no chance for a medal there’s no pressure,” Babcock said during Friday’s press conference.

“Do you want to be that person or the person under the gun? I want to be under the gun. We want to build our program so big that we’re under the gun, we’re supposed to win. Like I said, I talked about those fans, we’ve got an unbelievable fan group. They expect us to be good. We want to be good. Let’s be good.”

Kadri, Matthews, and the Maple Leafs will get their chance to “be good” enough to keep this series alive in Game 5 on Saturday. You can tune in on NBC, with puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.